Scala, London

Hip-hop iconoclasts recreate a mid-80s Queens basement rap party

By Mark Beaumont

On the way up the steps to the first Run-DMC in show London in 12 years, the brickwork is decorated with clippings from their glory days, a parade of hip-hop firsts: a Rolling Stone cover from 1986, news of their collaboration on Aerosmith’s Walk This Way the same year, their appearance at Live Aid and the triple-platinum sales for the album Raising Hell. It must make for their personal happy place, reminders of a time before this pioneering rap crew fell apart throughout the 90s, with Joseph “Run” Simmons giving himself to God and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels drowning in drink, depression and prescription drugs, and before their DJ Jam Master Jay was shot dead in 2002, a violent full stop on one of the most groundbreaking careers in hip-hop history.

At this promotional event, marking the 30th anniversary of the first mobile phone call, Run-DMC relive an authentic mid-80s Queens basement rap party. They lean heavily on early classics such as It’s Tricky, Sucker MC’s and their first rap-rock crossover hit, Rock Box. All tragedy and trauma seems forgotten as the duo ping-pong masterful lines. Simmons, meanwhile, plays the gregarious compere, signing a trademark DMC hat to give away – “you can sell this for a million pounds or something, so tell your boss ‘I quit!’” – beatboxing for Jesus and raising his trainer aloft in false-idol worship for My Adidas.

Their polite, jolly bounce-alongs are the music hall of rap, a throwback to a golden age when the social protest of It’s Like That was raising a righteous fist before the guns, gangs, machismo and misogyny of the gangsta era took over. The nursery rhymes of Peter Piper seem impossibly coy in a world where Odd Future are tossing out rape raps just as cheerfully, and the final Walk This Way is a glorious howl of cross-cultural unity that took hip-hop decades to assimilate. Tonight couldn’t be more 80s if Marty McFly came on throwing out Marathon bars, yet there are still lessons to be learned from rap’s Flanagan and Allen. Hats off.

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